SunOpta trying to beef up its biofuel unit

SunOpta Inc. of Brampton, Ont., sensing rising interest in the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol, is looking to raise up to $30 million (U.S.) to bolster cellulosic ethanol production and related process technologies. I’ve written about SunOpta before and the company appears well positioned in the market, even against better-known rivals such as Iogen Corp. of Ottawa. In August the company sold a biomass pretreatment and conversion system to Celunol Corp., a U.S.-based maker of cellulosic ethanol that counts Vinod Khosla as a major investor.

GM confirms: We’re developing a plug-in hybrid

Rick Wagoner, chief executive of General Motors Corp., has finally come clean with plans to commercialize a plug-in hybrid consumer vehicle. He didn’t give any dates, only a commitment that GM is considering this a top priority. “Production timing will depend on battery development,” he said.” Wagoner did say, however, the first version would be a Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid. “We’re working today with a number of battery companies to develop the technology necessary to build a plug-in hybrid.”

Wagoner made the comments during a speech today at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. An environmental activist apparently wasn’t satisfied with the commitment, or the lack of a date, and walked up on stage asking Wagoner to sign a pledge to be the industry’s fuel-economy leader by 2010. Wagoner’s response: “You have to leave now.”

Good on GM for making the commitment to come out with a plug-in hybrid, but without a ballpark date it’s tough to say whether this is just PR that won’t go anywhere. We know battery technology is holding up the technology — Toyota and other car makers have said this as well. It’s a safe bet for any company to say they’ll come out with a plug-in hybrid when that technology is ready. Hasn’t that been the claim for fuel cells?

I’m being a skeptic — perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps this move by GM will spark similar announcements from its competitors and then, suddenly, we’ll have real competition toward getting the first plug-in hybrids into the North American market.

Here’s hoping.

GM confirms: We’re developing a plug-in hybrid

Rick Wagoner, chief executive of General Motors Corp., has finally come clean with plans to commercialize a plug-in hybrid consumer vehicle. He didn’t give any dates, only a commitment that GM is considering this a top priority. “Production timing will depend on battery development,” he said.” Wagoner did say, however, the first version would be a Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid. “We’re working today with a number of battery companies to develop the technology necessary to build a plug-in hybrid.”

Wagoner made the comments during a speech today at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. An environmental activist apparently wasn’t satisfied with the commitment, or the lack of a date, and walked up on stage asking Wagoner to sign a pledge to be the industry’s fuel-economy leader by 2010. Wagoner’s response: “You have to leave now.”

Good on GM for making the commitment to come out with a plug-in hybrid, but without a ballpark date it’s tough to say whether this is just PR that won’t go anywhere. We know battery technology is holding up the technology — Toyota and other car makers have said this as well. It’s a safe bet for any company to say they’ll come out with a plug-in hybrid when that technology is ready. Hasn’t that been the claim for fuel cells?

I’m being a skeptic — perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps this move by GM will spark similar announcements from its competitors and then, suddenly, we’ll have real competition toward getting the first plug-in hybrids into the North American market.

Here’s hoping.

Clean Break Podcast: EnerWorks and solar thermal

My Clean Break podcast today is an interview with Michael Noble, founder and president of Dorchester, Ont.-based EnerWorks Inc., which develops and sells solar thermal hot water heating systems for residential and commercial use. EnerWorks recently snagged a round of funding and is hoping to expand into the U.S. market. Noble calls solar thermal low-hanging fruit in the solar industry.

Personal update: I’ve been quite ill over the past few days, as you can tell from my posts (or lack of). Unfortunately, I won’t be attending the geo-exchange conference as I had hoped. Also, posts will likely be sporadic over the coming days (possibly weeks) as I work toward getting better.

China now claims “world’s largest” with solar plan

Funny, seems anybody these days can claim they’re going to build the world’s largest solar power station. The latest claim comes out of China, which says it will build a 100-megawatt solar generating facility over the next five years at a cost of $766 million (U.S.).

And what about Australia’s claim of a 154-megawatt station? Or the 300-megawatt project being explored in New Mexico? What’s the criteria these days to claim “world’s largest”? Until we see any of these projects break ground, I’d consider them for what they are: PR.

That said, if such projects are serious and we keep seeing more of them announced, this industry indeed has a bright future. These massive projects will also go a long way in bringing down the cost of solar to everyone’s benefit.